Audi TT gets two sporty appearance packages for the global range

Audi released a new variant of the TTS named Competition Plus that plays with colors and materials to put a greater focus on style. Both coupe and convertible models are eligible to receive the appearance package.

Offered in Chronos Gray, Glacier White, Tango Red, and Turbo Blue, the Competition Plus gains a selection of subtle design details that help it stand out from the standard TTS. Its 20-inch wheels are painted black, its brake calipers are red, and most of its exterior trim pieces are coated in black. Audi’s logo appears on both sides, right in front of the rear wheels.

Inside, the seats are upholstered in black leather upholstery with Express Red or Ara Blue contrast stitching. Several other styling accents (including carbon fiber on the center console) are part of the package.

Power comes from a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 320 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It spins all four wheels and uses a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Enthusiasts who select the coupe can reach 62 mph from a stop in 4.5 seconds, while the convertible posts a 4.8-second time.

On sale now in select markets, the Audi TTS Competition Plus carries a base price of 61,000 euros (about $72,400) in its home country of Germany, though that figure includes a 19% sales tax. While it initially sounded like we’d get the package in the United States, Audi later confirmed it will not be sold on our shores.

Extra bronze

Audi detailed a separate appearance package named Bronze Selection (shown above) which will be available on the TT and the TTS during the second quarter of 2021. Created by Audi Sport, the firm’s in-house performance division, it leaves the powertrain untouched but it adds bronze- and copper-colored trim pieces inside and out.

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Lewis Hamilton wins crash-marred Bahrain Grand Prix

MANAMA — Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday after French driver Romain Grosjean had a miraculous escape from a fiery first-lap crash that ripped his car in two.

The win, from pole position, was the 95th of seven-time world champion Hamilton’s career and came with the safety car leading the field to the checkered flag.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished second with Thai teammate Alexander Albon completing the podium in the floodlit race at Sakhir after inheriting third place from Racing Point’s Sergio Perez who suffered a blown engine three laps from the end.

Hamilton, who clinched the title in Turkey two weeks ago, has now won the last five races and 11 of the 15 so far this season.

The race around the floodlit Sakhir track was halted seconds after the start when Grosjean’s Haas was ripped in half and engulfed in flames as it speared through protective barriers following contact with the AlphaTauri of Daniil Kvyat.

The Frenchman, who managed to free himself from the wreckage and jump clear, was taken to a nearby hospital with minor burns and suspected broken ribs.

He was voted ‘Driver of the Day’ by fans.

The race was halted for an hour and 20 minutes as track workers repaired the barriers.

Drama ensued immediately at the restart when Lance Stroll’s Racing Point was flipped upside down after contact with Kvyat. The Canadian climbed out unscathed and the safety car was deployed so his car could be removed.

The race settled into a procession when it eventually resumed for good, with Hamilton unchallenged on his way to his fourth win in Bahrain.

Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz took fourth and fifth for McLaren, allowing the Woking-based squad to vault into third in the overall team standings ahead of Racing Point, with Pierre Gasly sixth for AlphaTauri.

Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for Renault ahead of the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, who made a poor start and then suffered a puncture in yet another nightmare weekend for the Finn.

Esteban Ocon was ninth in the other Renault with Charles Leclerc, who earned the ire of Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel after making an opportunistic move on him, rounding out the top 10.


W Series champion Jamie Chadwick to go off-road with Veloce in Extreme E

LONDON — Jamie Chadwick, the first champion in the all-female W Series, has been bitten by the rally bug after testing the electric SUV she will race for the Veloce team in Extreme E next year.

The new electric off-road series, which aims to raise awareness about climate change, starts up in the Saudi Arabian desert in March, with further rounds in Senegal, Greenland, Brazil and Argentina.

Each of the 10 competing teams must enter a male and female driver, and Veloce confirmed Chadwick on Wednesday.

“It’s really, really taken my interest,” the Briton, who is also a Williams F1 development driver and hopes to retain the role despite the team’s recent change of ownership, told Reuters.

“I’m under no illusions about how much I’m going to have to learn. It’s a lot of fun but also a discipline that I’ve now engaged a lot more with.

“There’s a style that’s required that could actually really suit me … the Extreme E format is really short, sharp and intense so the physicality of it isn’t as bad as some of the track stuff.

“It’s definitely something I’d like to do more of and I’m keen to develop my off-road horizons.”

The 22-year-old said she would be interested also in eventually entering the Dakar Rally, the endurance event that had a female winner in German Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2001 when held in Africa.

Chadwick has yet to confirm other plans for 2021, with the W Series due to support Formula One at eight races but yet to publish a calendar. The 2020 campaign was written off due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Three of the planned Extreme E races clash with Formula One’s dates.

Chadwick is backed by New Zealand-based, high-performance car maker Rodin and she said that could also lead to another opportunity elsewhere.

“The first focus is obviously Extreme E. At the moment I’m committed to all five rounds but we’ll have to see what other calendar clashes might come into play and then we can make a decision,” she said.

Chadwick is racing in regional Formula Three in Italy this year but results have been disappointing and she is unlikely to return even though teams can run an extra car for a female driver.

Extreme E aims to promote sustainability and raise awareness with races in some of the world’s most remote and harsh environments that are suffering from global warming and pollution.

Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton and former team mate Nico Rosberg have entered teams, although neither will race.

Other teams are the U.S.-based Andretti United and Chip Ganassi Racing.


Rolls-Royce shows its festive side with limited-edition Neon Nights models

Anyone who has traveled to Las Vegas has undoubtedly seen brightly-colored Rolls-Royces parading down the Strip, but these head-turning creations usually weren’t painted at the factory. The firm decided to flaunt its flamboyant side and one-up the tuners by releasing a colorful trio of limited-edition models named Neon Nights.

Rolls-Royce based the Neon Nights on the Black Badge variants of the Wraith, the Dawn, and the Cullinan. Buyers have three colors to choose from: Lime Rock Green (for the Wraith), Eagle Rock Red (for the Dawn), and Mirabeau Blue (for the Cullinan). The first two receive gray leather, while the latter gets a white interior.

Stylists didn’t choose these colors at random. Lime Rock Green, in Rolls-Royce’s own words, is naturally bestowed on the Australian green tree frog. One of its paint specialists spotted one while traveling. Eagle Rock Red is inspired by the flowers of a Hawaiian tree named ‘Ohi’a lehua, and Mirabeau Blue is the paint team’s tribute to the Periander metalmark butterfly that’s native to Central and South America. After selecting suitably exotic plants and animals, Rolls-Royce’s in-house paint team set out to give each hue a neon-like glow.

Building the Neon Nights cars on the Black Badge variants peppers a bit of irony on the project, but it also gives customers more power. Pop the Cullinan’s long, stately hood to find a 6.75-liter V12 that’s twin-turbocharged to 600 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque, up from 563 and 627 in the regular model. Both the Dawn and the Wraith receive a twin-turbocharged, 6.6-liter V12 with 593 horsepower and 620 pound-feet of torque on tap, increases of 30 and 15, respectively, over the cars not ordered with the optional Black Badge package.

Rolls-Royce explained it initially planned to cap production at one car per color, and it noted the trio was created specifically for customers in the United States. Unexpected demand from other global markets convinced the company to paint three additional cars in each color, meaning a total of 12 examples will be produced. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but the buyers the British firm is trying to reach don’t need ask for a window sticker.

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Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean escapes fiery crash at Bahrain GP

SAKHIR, Bahrain — Formula One driver Romain Grosjean appears to have escaped with burns after his car crashed and burst into flames moments after the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.

The 34-year-old French driver slid off track on the first lap and his Haas car burst into flames after being sliced in two by a barrier. Grosjean clambered out with the fire roaring behind him and his race helmet singed.

He was stuck inside the flaming wreck for nearly 10 seconds before somehow finding a way out. The race footage showed safety officials reaching the car immediately but with Grosjean still trapped inside. He managed to find a way out and jumped through the flames and gripped the boiling hot metal barrier as he jumped over back onto the track, shaking his hands in agony before being helped by the stewards.

Moments later, Grosjean was shown on television chatting with the race doctor in the medical car.

Grosjean was then helped out of the car and into an ambulance. He appeared to be shaken but did not immediately seem injured other than a slight limp.

Drivers and team members stood and applauded as they saw the images of Grosjean climbing over the barrier to safety and being sprayed with a fire extinguisher.

It appeared an extraordinary escape after his car was sliced in half upon impact with the barrier.

The accident happened when Grosjean lost grip and slid to the right, where his back wheel clipped the front of Daniil Kvyat’s Alpha-Tauri and he flew off into the barrier.

Grosjean’s teammate Kevin Magnussen looked distressed when he saw the footage as drivers waited in the paddock for the race to restart, while officials returned to the site of the crash to pick up debris littered around the destroyed car.


Hyundai and Kia to pay $137 million fine for delayed U.S. recalls

Hyundai and Kia must pay $137 million in fines and safety improvements because they moved too slowly to recall over 1 million vehicles with engines that can fail.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the penalties on Friday. They resolve a three-year government probe into the companies’ behavior involving recalls of multiple models dating to the 2011 model year.

“It’s critical that manufacturers appropriately recognize the urgency of their safety recall responsibilities and provide timely and candid information to the agency about all safety issues,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens said in a statement.

Hyundai will pay $54 million and invest $40 million to improve safety operations under an agreement reached with the agency. The company must build a field test and inspection laboratory in the U.S. and put new computer systems in place to analyze data to identify safety issues. Another $46 million in penalties will be deferred as long as the Korean automaker meets safety conditions, NHTSA said in a prepared statement.

Kia, which is affiliated with Hyundai, must pay $27 million and invest $16 million on safety performance measures. Another $27 million payment will be deferred as long as Kia behaves.

Kia will set up a U.S. safety office headed by a chief safety officer. Both companies will have to hire an independent third-party auditor to review their safety practices, and they committed to organizational improvements to identify and investigate potential U.S. safety issues.

“We value a collaborative and cooperative relationship with the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA, and will continue to work closely with the agency to proactively identify and address potential safety issues,” Brian Latouf, Hyundai’s chief safety officer, said in a prepared statement.

Kia denied the allegations from the U.S. but said Friday that it wanted to avoid a protracted legal fight.

“We are pleased to be able to direct our attention to improving and enhancing our recall management processes, and our priority remains making things right for our customers,” the company said in a prepared statement.

The U.S. safety agency opened its probe in 2017 after Hyundai recalled about 470,000 vehicles in September of 2015 because debris from manufacturing could restrict oil flow to connecting rod bearings. That could make the bearings wear out and fail, potentially causing the four-cylinder engines to stall or catch fire. The repair was an expensive engine block replacement.

NHTSA said in investigation documents that Hyundai limited the recall to engines made before April of 2012, saying it solved the manufacturing problem after that. In addition, Kia didn’t recall its cars and SUVs with the same 2.4-liter and 2-liter “Theta II” engines, contending they were made on a different assembly line at a plant in Alabama.

But 18 months after the 2015 recall, both automakers announced recalls of 1.2 million more vehicles for the same problem, including models the automakers originally said weren’t affected, NHTSA said when it opened the investigation.

Engine failure and fire problems with Hyundais and Kias have plagued the companies for more than five years, affecting the owners of more than 8 million vehicles.

In June of 2018, NHTSA opened two more investigations of the automakers that have yet to be resolved. The agency said it had owner complaints of more than 3,100 fires, 103 injuries and one death. It granted a petition seeking the probes filed by the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group.

Jason Levine, executive director of the center, said they petitioned NHTSA seeking an investigation because no one seemed to be listening to complaints from Hyundai and Kia owners.

“Only time will tell if this sort of deferred penalty and mandated investments in safety operations will actually deter similar behavior in the future by these or other manufacturers,” Levine said.

The new investigations, one for Hyundai and the other for Kia, covered non-crash fires in almost 3 million vehicles across the model lineups of the affiliated Korean automakers.

In documents, NHTSA reported that it had received complaints of engine compartment fires, as well as fires involving other components including tail light housings, wiring harnesses, and light bulbs.

Later the affiliated Korean automakers acknowledged that the engine block replacements may not have been properly done in all cases by dealers. Kia said a pipe carrying high-pressure fuel may have been damaged, misaligned or improperly tightened during the repairs, allowing gas to leak and hit hot engine parts, causing more fires.

More recalls followed. Hyundai and Kia have recalled more than 4.7 million vehicles, and they did a “product improvement campaign” covering another 3.7 million to install software that will alert drivers of possible engine failures.

Data collected by the Center for Auto Safety show 31 U.S. fire and engine-related recalls from Hyundai and Kia since 2015. The recalls involve more than 20 models from the 2006 through 2021 model years totaling over 8.4 million vehicles.

In some cases, such as nearly 200,000 vehicles recalled in September for braking system electrical shorts, the automakers urged owners to park them outside because fires could start after the vehicles were turned off. There also were recalls for brake fluid leaks, fuel pump cracks, damaged catalytic converters and problems with fuel igniting prematurely in the cylinders, all of which could set engines ablaze.


Volkswagen plans a lower-cost electric car the size of a Polo

BERLIN — Volkswagen is bringing forward the development of a small electric car for the mass market in anticipation of tougher climate regulations, according to plans seen by Reuters, as it seeks to boost sales in a new green era.

Under the project dubbed “Small BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle)”, engineers are racing to develop a purely-battery powered car around the size of a Polo which will be available for between 20,000 and 25,000 euros ($24,000-30,000).

This would make it cheaper than Volkswagen’s ID.3 electric car, which went on sale in September.

Volkswagen did not provide details on what the vehicle might look like, when it might be launched or where it might be built.

The carmaker has said the European Union’s more stringent emissions targets will force it to boost the proportion of hybrid and electric vehicles in its European car sales to 60% by 2030, up from a previous target of 40%.

Earlier this month, it raised its planned investment on digital and electric vehicle technologies to 73 billion euros ($86 billion) over the next five years, of which around 35 billion will be invested in e-mobility.

The VW brand currently plans to build 1.5 million electric cars by 2025.

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2020 BMW X6 Luggage Test | The ‘coupe’ crossover isn’t half bad

Maybe you’re one of the few who finds the BMW X6 to be more attractive than the X5. Well, form in the car world comes with compromises to function in many cases. Opting for the “coupe” version of this BMW crossover pair is one of those cases. BMW claims the X6 (including the X6 M Competition model pictured here) has 27.4 cubic-feet of space behind the second row (slightly better than the previous generation X6), which is 6.5 cubes fewer than an X5.

When you look at it that way, the X6’s compromise looks relatively minor. But as is the case with just about every luggage test we perform, numbers don’t tell the whole story. The X6 loses some of its utility by imposing a high load floor and an angled rear hatch line that doesn’t look conducive to stacking boxy suitcases. The X6 also lacks the X5’s handy two-piece hatch with the bottom edge folding out for easy loading or a quick seat. BMW tries to make up for this in the X6 with a voluminous underfloor storage compartment, but it’s mainly just useful for odds and ends. Let’s get to testing.

The luggage is the same as we typically use for our Midwest luggage tests: two carry-on suitcases sized (24 inches long, 15.5 wide, 10 deep); one carry-on suitcase (21.7L x 13.7W x 9 D); one medium-size suitcase you have to check (24.5L x 16.8W x 11.5D) and two larger, full-size suitcases (33.8L x 21.5W x 13D) and (28.1L x 18W x 10.5D).

To start, we chucked in the three carry-on suitcases and the one medium-sized suitcase. All four of these fit without issue, leaving an abundance of space in front of them for other odds and ends. You can put the cargo shade down over them, too. We tried to stick one of the full-size suitcases in front, but the wheels proved to be too large for the hatch to close. However, a slightly smaller suitcase could fit in front there. We’ll give some kudos to BMW for making the closing height halfway decent with this body shape. It’s slightly better than expected.

Configuration number two is below. You’ll see that two carry-on suitcases can be stacked and still fit under the cargo shade. Not only that, but a full-size suitcase comfortably fits next to them. This leaves the front open for the last carry-on suitcase with a tiny space remaining. In that space, we squeezed in the fancy bag (22L x 8.8W x 12D). The hatch closes without issue.

But then we decided to remove that cargo shade to see what maximum capacity looks like. With it gone, you can stack the second full-size suitcase on top of the other. However, this intrudes on the fancy bag’s previous space too much, squeezing it out. We moved that to sit on top of the stacked carry-on suitcases, and voila, the hatch closes. It’s tight, as you can see below, but it does work. Put anything larger than the fancy bag on top of the double stacked carry-ons, and it’s a no-go.

If that still isn’t enough, the rear seats fold down 60/40 style from pull-tabs in the rear hatch or on the seatbacks themselves. They don’t go all the way flat, but much more space opens up. In total, you get 59.6 cubic-feet behind the first row. The deficit to the X5’s cargo space grows here, as it’s 12.7 cubes smaller. Chalk that up to the faster roof line coming back to bite utility.

As a whole, though, the X6 comports itself well in this test. There weren’t any major fails, and the slicked-back roof line doesn’t hurt cargo capacity as much as it might look at first glance. The most annoying thing about it is the load floor height. Lifting heavy items or suitcases all the way up into this car won’t be enjoyable, and it’s especially annoying when we know how much easier the X5 makes it.

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No slowing down as Lewis Hamilton pursues yet another record

MANAMA, Bahrain — Lewis Hamilton heads into Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix as the most successful driver in Formula One history, and now a seven-time world champion, but the Briton will not be slowing down as he aims to round out a record-breaking season in style.

The Mercedes driver clinched the title at the previous race in Turkey to equal Michael Schumacher’s record seven, having already surpassed the Ferrari great’s tally of 91 race wins.

With three races to go and 10 wins from 14, Hamilton is on course for his most successful campaign yet and can become only the third driver after Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel to win 13 times in a season.

“Now it’s a bit more chilled but I still have three races ahead of me that I want to win,” said Hamilton, who has not previously won more than 11 races in a single year.

Hamilton has won three times around the 5.4km Sakhir desert track, including last year after a loss of power robbed Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc of an almost certain victory.

With Mercedes dominant, the Briton is favorite again, but teammate Valtteri Bottas will be out to stop him.

Bahrain marks the start of a whirlwind floodlit Middle Eastern triple-header that wraps up the season.

A second race the following week, the Sakhir Grand Prix, follows at the same venue but around the shorter outer. After that is the finale at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina.

While the titles are already decided, other battles are still being fought.

Mexican Sergio Perez, Leclerc and Australian Daniel Ricciardo are separated by just four points in the battle for fourth overall.

Racing Point, McLaren, Renault and Ferrari, separated by just 24 points, are fighting for third in the constructors’ table.

There could also be a flurry of driver announcements.

Thailand’s Alexander Albon is yet to be confirmed alongside Max Verstappen at Red Bull with Perez and Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg in the frame as potential replacements.

Japanese Formula Two racer Yuki Tsunoda looks set to replace Russian Daniil Kvyat alongside Pierre Gasly at Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri.

American outfit Haas are yet to announce their 2020 drivers with Ferrari-backed Formula Two championship leader Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, in the frame.

Hamilton, out of contract at the end of the year, is also yet to sign a new deal with Mercedes.

Sunday’s race, like most this season, will be closed to fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic but organizers are putting aside a limited number of grandstand seats for the families of health workers.


Lego Technic adds a 1,677-piece Ferrari 488 GTE kit to its portfolio

If you’re not eligible to purchase one of Ferrari’s 488 GT Modificata, the folks at Lego have a consolation prize. The Danish firm will soon add a replica of AF Corse’s successful Ferrari 488 GTE Evo race car to its catalog.

Lego chose this specific 488 GTE Evo, which wears number 51, because it has racked up an impressive number of victories. It notably took first in its class in the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans, beating the Porsche 911 RSR, the Ford GT, and the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. The kit consists of 1,677 pieces, and it’s 19 inches long when fully assembled. Its livery is surprisingly accurate, down to the yellow band across the windshield and the sponsor stickers. It even gains a sizeable rear wing, though it likely won’t need the downforce to stay on your desk.

Ferrari’s prancing horse emblem proudly appears on the front and rear ends as well as on the steering wheel. The front and rear suspension systems are both functional, and the V8 engine even features moving pistons. Technic kits are normally been more advanced than regular Lego kits, and the 488 GTE is no exception.

Lego’s Ferrari 488 GTE will be available online, in Lego stores, and at select retailers on January 1, 2021. It costs $169.99, but it’s less of a toy than it might look like. Lego stresses it’s best suited to builders aged 18 and over.

2020 has been a good year for Lego fans with a penchant for Italian machines. It announced a 1/8-scale, 3,696-piece Lamborghini Sián FKP 37 in May, and it released a 960-piece 1960s Fiat 500F in March. Lego Technic even worked with Ducati for the first time to bring collectors a foot-long replica of the Panigale V4 R.